Pioneering comedian Paul Mooney dead at 79

Legendary comedian Paul Mooney, whose jokes helped catapult the careers of Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Eddie Murphy, died Wednesday at age 79.

Credit: File Photo

Credit: File Photo

Legendary comedian Paul Mooney, whose jokes helped catapult the careers of Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Eddie Murphy, died Wednesday at age 79.

Legendary stand-up comedian Paul Mooney, whose jokes helped catapult the careers of Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Eddie Murphy, died Wednesday at age 79.

Reports say the veteran funnyman suffered a heart attack and died about 5:30 this morning at his home in Oakland, California, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Mooney’s publicist Cassandra Williams confirmed his death.

“Thank you all from the bottom of all of our hearts …you’re all are the best!…… Mooney World .. The Godfather of Comedy – ONE MOON MANY STARS! .. To all in love with this great man.. many thanks,” family posted on Mooney’s Twitter account Wednesday morning.

Mooney’s comedic career spanned more than four decades. He portrayed singer Sam Cooke in the 1978 Oscar-winning drama “The Buddy Holly Story,” and he also had acting roles in “Bustin’ Loose” in 1981, “In the Army Now” in 1994, and “Bamboozled” in 2000.

His comedic genius, however, was mostly felt through endeavors behind the scenes.

He worked with the likes of Norman Lear and penned jokes for classic television sitcoms including “Sanford and Son” and “Good Times,” and he also served as the lead writer for Keenan Ivory Wayans during the first season of his sketch comedy show “In Living Color.”

He also co-wrote the script for the 1986 comedy-drama film “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling.”

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1941, Mooney — whose birthname was Paul Gladney — spent his childhood in Oakland, where he grew up and joined a circus, according to historical accounts.

One day he saw a performance by satirist Lenny Bruce and moved to Los Angeles determined to start his own stand-up career. He is well-remembered for his side-splitting routines at the Laugh Factory and the Comedy Store.

By the late 1960s, he formed a friendship with an up-and-coming comedian named Richard Pryor, which opened many doors for Mooney to make a name for himself.

In one case, Pryor went to NBC executives in 1975 to ask that Mooney be allowed to write the episode of “Saturday Night Live” he was scheduled to host, according to Pitchfork. The show turned out to be a hit, with Chevy Chase appearing in one of the most famous schticks with Pryor.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Pryor and Mooney were an inseparable team, working together on some of Pryor’s most successful stand-up specials, including 1975′s “Is It Something I Said,” “Bicentennial N----” in 1976, and “Live on the Sunset Strip” in1982.

Through the years, Mooney also kept up with his own comedy routines, releasing specials including 1993′s “Race” and 2010′s “It’s the End of the World,” but he never achieved the widespread acclaim of the comics he helped rise to the top of the stand-up circuit.

Mooney said he was likely limited from becoming a big star because he preferred to tackle controversial subjects such as race and politics.

“Hollywood likes you a certain way when you’re Black,” he once said.

More recently, Mooney appeared numerous times on “Chappelle’s Show” and is often remembered for the hilarious segment, “Ask a Black Dude.”

Mooney also wrote material for Arsenio Hall and filmmaker Robert Townsend.

He was also a go-to source for television documentaries about the history of comedy in America, in which he regularly appeared for perspectives on who’s who among comedians and how he and others cut their teeth in the industry.

“We are deeply saddened and our hearts are broken by the news of the passing of @PaulEalyMooney,” Los Angeles’ comedy landmark, The Laugh Factory, wrote on Twitter. “He was a staple of our industry, godfather to many of our careers and a founding father of standup comedy as we know it. He will be truly missed. Make God Laugh, Paul.”

This is a developing story. Please stay with AJC.com for the latest details.

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